An Introduction to
Post-World War Britain
The Prime Ministers of the First World War
As we know from our studies at IGCSE, the War was brought to an end in 1918, when David Lloyd George was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But he was not the man who brought the UK into the War initially. That would be Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who served as British Prime Minister from 1908 until 1916, when he was forced to resign.
He was then succeeded by David Lloyd George, a man who remains the last liberal politician and only Welshman to hold the post of Prime Minister. Aside from the general background points, Lloyd George is considered to be a largely popular and successful Prime Minister. A 1999 BBC Radio 4 survey of 20 politicians and historians ranks him as the second best British prime minister of the 20th century, behind Sir Winston Churchill. The University of Leeds and Ipsos Mori’s online survey of 139 academics who specialised in 20th-century British history and/or politics ranked him as 3rd on the list.
Background of Post-First World War Britain
At the close of the First World War, Lloyd George was one of the Big Three that made many of the decisions at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles. His aims can be seen as the middle ground between France and the USA.
Lloyd George aimed at creating moderate peace with Germany, whilst punishing Germany for its crimes.
He did not wish to punish the country too harshly; on the one hand, to prevent them from seeking revenge in the future, and on the other hand, to allow Germany to remain stable and recover as a key trading partner of Great Britain.
His aims were largely achieved as Germany remained united and began to recover under the agreed Dawes Plan, resuming trade with Britain, whilst the British empire was not affected by the negotiations at the conference.
Lloyd George was re-elected as Prime Minister on the backdrop of his successes during the First World War, as his coalition government, made up of mostly Conservative MPs, won with a landslide victory.
A New Britain
Now that the War was over, the government was able to withdraw state control of industry, price controls, raw materials and foreign trade, through food rationing remained until 1921 as supplies began to stabilise. However, some minor economic issues did arise, with prices increasing twice as fast in the year after the war than the period of the War itself.
The issue of “wasteful” public spending emerged in 1921, and high taxation was found to be one of the reasons behind the problem. Hence, in February 1922, Sir Eric Geddes produced a report recommending military and public spending cuts. This “Geddes Axe”, which was implemented towards the end of the post-war economic boom limited the government’s ability to rebuild and construct their promised “homes for heroes”.
During the early years of the inter-war period, democracy was extended, with the 1918 Representation of the People Act removing the classist laws which meant you had to own property in order to be eligible to vote. Subsequently, the Labour Party had a chance to become more competitive as the working class could now vote, and the Labour party was largely in charge of working-class politics. The Act also made an unprecedented change to voting by giving women over the age of 30 the right to vote. In 1928, this was further extended to cover women on equal voting terms as men.
The Fear of a Socialist Revolution and the evolving role of the Monarchy
With the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in mind, the Labour Party strongly supported the Liberal-led Government in London, whilst it strongly opposed the idea of a violent revolution. There was to be no issue of a revolution in Britain– at least not a socialist one on the part of the Labour party. But, this was an issue that deeply concerned Conservatives who feared a revolution in the shape of the “Red Clydeside” in Industrial Scotland, when in reality, their fears were unfounded as the main goal of the leftist white working men in Red Clydeside was to exclude blacks and women from jobs with good pay and working conditions, which they themselves wanted.
Still, the royal establishment was deeply concerned with the republican sentiment which threatened the position of the monarchy as they saw republicanism as a predecessor to socialism and the worker’s rights movement. Hence, they re-organised the monarchy’s role to be more accommodating to the working class, with King George VI making almost 300 visits to munitions factories and shipyards, helping to create an image of a caring monarchy which had the interests of the people at heart.
The monarchy also adopted a more democratic stance in the wake of the electoral reforms which removed property requirements and introduced women’s suffrage, with the King taking steps to build a good relationship with the leaders of the Labour Party.
The King was largely popular, like his father, George V, and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who would succeed him in 1952. One of the factors which he gained admiration from the people for was his refusal to leave London during the intense bombing, deciding to remain at Buckingham Palace.